MANILA,  October 1, 2004  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - An arrow straight into the heart of the Tamaraws.

With the clock ticking and all the marbles at stake, JV Casio delivered the biggest shot of his life yesterday, a booming triple that gave La Salle a 68-65 victory over FEU and its fifth UAAP championship in seven years.

The 18-year-old Casio shook off defender Dennis Miranda before taking the shot from left wing. It was also the biggest shot of the 67th UAAP season and the shot that mattered most in the game that seemed too hard to decide.

"Buo lang ang loob ko kaya ko naitira yun," said Casio, one of the smallest players in the league, of the shot that came in the final 25.3 seconds and gave La Salle a 66-65 lead that proved enough to win it all.

"Sa first two games kasi medyo hindi ako naka-deliver. So I prepared myself harder for this game. Mentally. Nung pumasok, gusto ko na lang sumigaw na sumigaw," added Casio amid all the celebration at the Big Dome.

Miranda blew a chance to turn the tide around when he missed from close range. A foul by the FEU guard on Mark Cardona led to two charities with 2.2 seconds left, pegging the final score and igniting a big La Salle fiesta.

After the buzzer sounded, La Salle players were sprawled all over the court, celebrating the victory. Coach Franz Pumaren was already being congratulated by his staff, his players and his family even before he could say a word. Some of the players were in tears, jumping with joy, whooping it up, shouting at the top of their voices as the La Salle crowd, which filled more than half of the Araneta Coliseum, roared in approval.

"May na-prove kami ni Joseph Yeo. Na kaya namin napa-champion ang La Salle," said Cardona who was denied the MVP crown by Arwind Santos. La Salle last won the title in 2001 (four in a row in fact) behind the efforts of Mike Cortez and Ren Ren Ritualo.

As all these happened, the Tamaraws stood on the other end of the court, hurting, also some of them crying after losing the game, and the title they won last year. But they have nothing to be ashamed of, each one of them knowing that they gave their best.

Coach Koy Banal was clutching his six-year-old son Isaiah as all these happened. Later on, he approached his entire family who watched from ringside. They locked themselves in one tight, tearful hug that showed how everything felt from inside.

As the Tamaraws prepared to leave the court and leave the partying to the Green Archers, Miranda, one of the finest amateur players in the country today, embraced his coach. They both wept, unabashedly, knowing that it was their last year together.

Some of the Tamaraws left the court limping, like RJ Rizada who suffered from cramps and Arwind Santos who won the MVP crown but not the championship. But they’ll be back next year, definitely, to try to win it again.

"La Salle deserves it. They played well. I take my hat off to coach Franz Pumaren. He deserves it. Even their players. I congratulate them," said Banal, spoken like a true gentleman, a true sportsman.

"Masakit siyempre. But we fought valiantly and with honor. Wala na akong mahihingi sa kanila as a coach. Hindi ko nakuha ang championship pero may trophy din ako nung makita ko ang mga players ko fighting so hard," he added.

The Green Archers started strong in the fourth quarter and took an 11-point lead on Casio’s triple, one of four for the night. But the Tamaraws clawed back into the game with a 14-2 run that lasted four minutes.

Mark Isip gave FEU its last taste of the lead with 37 seconds left, giving the Tamaraws a chance to wrap it up – until Casio dropped the bomb.

The Green Archers broke the ice through Jerwin Gaco and took a 5-0 lead on Cardona’s triple. The Tamaraws missed their first two cracks at the basket and hit the scoreboard after more than two minutes of play, courtesy of Santos. The first quarter turned tight in the end, marked by five lead changes with FEU coming out on top, 18-14. In the second, La Salle exploded from the outside. Jayvee Casio, Cardona and Ryan Araña hit a triple each, the last giving the Green Archers a 27-24 edge which they padded to 32-26, with 2:20 left in the first half. A 6-0 windup by the Tamaraws forced the third deadlock of the game at 32.

In the first 20 minutes, La Salle shot better from the floor but were slightly outrebounded, 19-17. La Salle a little more in assists, 8-6, but had more turnovers, 12-9. Cardona was the only player to hit double figures in the first half with a dozen points.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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